High-energy Jones catching on fast in Seattle
James Jones has brought a life and vitality to the Seattle Mariners.
Jones has added speed to a pedestrian basestealing roster. He has hit well enough to find himself already in the franchise record book. Oh, and Jones can break into song and dance on a whim.
Jones knows his audience, and he knows how to get the job done.
Jones got a big league glimpse for three days in mid-April, and then in early May, he was called up again and became the primary center fielder for a Mariners team looking for someone to ignite the offense.
It's not a one-man job, but Jones has certainly done his part. After legging out an infield single in the fifth inning Sunday, he went on to score the game-tying run on a triple by Michael Saunders that sent Seattle on its way to a 6-2 victory in Minnesota.
Jones also joined Edgar Martinez as the only players in Mariners history to hit safely in each of his first 10 big league starts. Yep, James Jones. Aren't familiar with him? A lot of folks aren't.
Jones is not your typical prospect. Seattle's fourth-round Draft choice in 2009, he won't be found on any of the offseason top prospect lists, which isn't anything new.
Jones is a center fielder with the Mariners, right? Well, at Long Island University, he pitched as well as played first base, and even though he was 1-9 with a 7.40 ERA his senior season, most teams were lured to watch him work out because of a 94-mph fastball.
As for the Mariners?
"I was hoping they were the team that would draft me," said Jones. "They had me hit, run and catch fly balls. They didn't even have me throw a pitch. I knew if I went to them, I'd get to hit. That's what I wanted to do."
The other teams?
"Most of them didn't even have me swing a bat," Jones said. "They just wanted to see me pitch."
Now everybody is getting a chance to see Jones swing a bat and run and shag fly balls. He has become the primary leadoff hitter for a Seattle team that's been searching for offense so much that manager Lloyd McClendon used 39 different lineups in the first 43 games.
The Mariners opened the season with Abraham Almonte as the center fielder and leadoff hitter. But when Almonte was hitting .198 and had struck out 40 times in 106 at-bats, Seattle decided to make a switch on May 5, sending Almonte down to Triple-A Tacoma and bring Jones up.
McClendon, after all, is new to the organization, so his only exposure to Jones had come during Spring Training. McClendon liked what he saw.
"He's a pretty interesting young man. He's very talented and I really like what I've seen," McClendon said in the spring. "I don't think he's going to knock on the door, I think he's going to knock the door down when he's ready to get there."
There's been nothing about Jones' first two weeks in the big leagues to change McClendon's mind. As well as having scored nine runs and hit .326 through his first 15 games, Jones has an aura of enthusiasm that has made him a favorite of his teammates.
Jones is living the dream and he's not afraid to enjoy it.
"I definitely want to be at this level," Jones said. "I have fun playing the game."
Jones is good right now, and he figures to get better. He can cover ground in center field, and runners who challenge his arm pay the price. It's the truth, no yarn, when they tell the story about Jones' sophomore year at LIU. The players were having a challenge with each other during batting practice. Standing at home plate, Jones threw a ball over the center-field fence, 412 feet away. The only debate was whether the ball was still rising on its way over the fence.
In addition to that cannon arm, Jones can steal a base and frequently makes contact. And at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he's drawn comparisons from scouts to a young Fred McGriff, which means they expect to see him develop home run power.
Jones has four doubles and a triple among his first 14 big league hits, but no home runs. He hit only 42 in 2,161 Minor League at-bats, his personal best being 14 at Class A Advanced High Desert in 2012.
Jones, however, isn't going to get hung up on trying to hit home runs and put himself in a funk.
"I'll let that come naturally," he said.
Oh, and Jones can dance, although he said it's a spontaneous activity, nothing planned.
"I just do what hits me," he said. "Sometimes I do the two-step."
Jones also at least tries to sing.
"I think I can sing," he said. "Some of my teammates say I can't."
Not that it matters to Jones. There have been plenty of doubters about what he can do over the years. He seems happy to be proving them wrong.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.